It may not be his mantra, but in interviews and articles, Marco Zappacosta, the CEO of Thumbtack, always says, “the future of work is local services.” With increasing automation in the economy, and advancements in robotics and AI, there are concerns from many quarters that in the future there will be fewer jobs. However, some jobs, like plumbers, electricians, personal trainers and event planners will not disappear, since they will need to be delivered personally and locally. Thumbtack plans to be the best place to find a professional to get anything you need done for your home or your life, and they are building the business model to do just that.
In 2009, the co-founders saw the opportunity to empower independent business owners who delivered personalized, local services, like videography, power washing or handyman services. There were some competitors out there, like Angie’s List, but they were really just on-line directories that left a lot of the work to the customer, who had to sort through the listings and call the various vendors and then solicit proposals. Thumbtack uses its technology to match the customer with the right pro automatically. By asking the customer a set of questions, not only about the nature of the project, but also about other salient parameters, like how quickly the work needs to be completed and when interviews or site visits might be scheduled, it can match only those professionals who are qualified and available in the requisite timeframe.
Another key difference, compared to some gig platforms, is that, although it offers several other services to its over 250,000 professionals, Thumbtack is a referral engine. These companies are small businesses that fulfill the personal service needs of people in their own communities. These small business owners pay a fee to communicate with the customers they are matched with through Thumbtack. Thumbtack does not take a percentage of the gig revenue, and more importantly, it is not branding the workers as Thumbtack workers. As such, the independent contractor or employee quagmire that sank the home cleaning service Homejoy (which closed in 2015 after $41 million in financing) and is now a pending legal issue for GrubHub and Uber is totally moot for Thumbtack. Thumbtack is in the business of empowering the professionals on their platform, not employing them.
And empower them they do. Last year, they helped their service providers earn over $1 billion in revenues. Beyond the referrals they offer, they are also providing tools for these small business people to run their businesses. Thumbtack is building tools for its pros so that these independent business owners can be more efficient in the administration of their businesses and spend more time focusing on their craft. So as its tagline says for their customers, “Consider it Done”, it also offers the same promise to its professionals, which helps deepen their connection. With many platforms, there is a natural tendency for disintermediation, where the independent worker just starts working with the client, leaving the platform in the dust. By helping their providers run their businesses better, Thumbtack is building a more durable relationship.
And with that deeper relationship comes deeper data. Thumbtack is a data intensive business and can tell customers about the average rates for projects of a certain type in a certain market. It also keeps data about the professionals and regularly publishes interesting research from its network. An August report detailed the gains many of the women-owned small businesses were making in professions that have historically been male dominated. For example, women-owned plumber businesses in their network have increased by 101% year over year. 64% of these business women run the enterprise as their primary business and a whopping 87% are very satisfied running their business. This type of information is so valuable, since there is a data problem with workers in the Gig Economy. The government stopped its Contingent Workforce Report in 2005, so there has not been any government statistics. Various companies and think tanks have tried to fill the gap, and Thumbtack is doing its part in this very important cohort of small business owners. This enables them not only to analyze the data, but also to offer input on policy; they are active advocates on the state and federal level for the professionals they serve.
Although scale is worrisome, they continually demonstrate their ability to perform. In the midst of the growth they have already experienced, they have won a spot on the Best Places to Work list in both 2017 and 2016. On Glassdoor, several female engineers have made a point to say the gender bias that seems to be endemic in some tech companies does not exist at Thumbtack.
Moreover, one thing I appreciate is that they are their own best customer. I hired a videographer, Daniel, through Thumbtack to film a recent speech I gave on my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy. I even mentioned in my remarks that I had secured him through Thumbtack. Afterwards, I asked Daniel how he felt about the company. He said that not only has it worked out very well for him, but that Thumbtack is his client as well, since they needed someone to do some corporate videos. Back in the day when I ran a gig economy company for consultants, I always used my network of consultants whenever we needed help. As I used to say then, no better way to build your growing business than to use your growing business. The team at Thumbtack obviously agrees and they, consider it done.